Laws that protect the dignity, safety and privacy of women seeking reproductive healthcare should be upheld, the Human Rights Law Centre has argued in a submission to the High Court today.
The High Court is to hear a case challenging the validity of Victoria’s safe access zone laws, which came into operation in 2016 and enable women to visit abortion clinics without being harassed and intimidated.
Senior Lawyer, Adrianne Walters, said the Human Rights Law Centre has applied to provide expert assistance to the High Court because safe access zone laws are absolutely vital to protecting a woman’s right to access health services.
“For too long, women in Victoria were subjected to abuse and intimidation when exercising their right to access lawful health services. Since May 2016, safe access zones have ensured women have not had to run a gauntlet of abuse, harassment and intimidation when trying to see their doctor,” said Ms Walters.
The High Court challenge has been brought by anti-abortionist, Kathleen Clubb, who was convicted of communicating about abortion to a person accessing a clinic in a manner “reasonably likely to cause distress or anxiety” in a safe access zone.
Ms Walters said the case raises important questions about balancing the rights of women seeking access to medical care and the implied freedom of political communication in the Constitution.
“Free speech is not a license to harm others with impunity. Our position is that Victoria’s safe access zone laws strike the right balance between the freedom of political communication and a woman’s right to privately and safely see her doctor,” said Ms Walters.
Victoria’s safe access zone laws were enacted following the East Melbourne Fertility Control Clinic’s Supreme Court action to end decade’s long harassment by anti-abortionists outside the Clinic. The Human Rights Law Centre was a part of the Clinic’s legal team.
Tasmania, Victoria, the ACT and Northern Territory have laws authorising safe access zones around abortion clinics. Premier Gladys Berejiklian has granted a conscience vote on a similar bill in NSW, which yesterday passed the Legislative Council and will soon to be debated in the Legislative Assembly.
The Human Rights Law Centre is being generously assisted on a pro bono basis by DLA Piper and a team of barristers.
For interviews or further information please call:
Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519